Commentary: UNITE-HERE Local 11’s Failure of Leadership During Pandemic

Leading by example must not be a concept hotel worker union Unite Here Local 11 is familiar with.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, 95 percent of Local 11’s members found themselves unemployed. How did union leaders respond? By allegedly pressuring members to keep up with their dues payments, all the while fighting to keep hotels closed and members out-of-work.

But that’s not all. Local 11’s leaders seem to have insulated themselves and the union’s political agenda from the same financial turmoil union members faced in 2020.

According to the unions’ latest financial filings with the Department of Labor, its top leaders’ salaries were barely touched last year.

Local 11 co-president Ada Briceño’s salary only decreased slightly from $115,406 to $112,565. Similarly, co-president Kurt Petersen saw his salary cut by just 1.2 percent from $114,915 to $113,488.

Susan Minato — another co-president whose husband has been listed on the union’s payroll in previous years — took a less than one percent pay cut from her 2019 salary of $114,196.

Adding insult to injury, Local 11 actually increased the cost of dues for its largely unemployed members. In 2019, the maximum dues payment per month was $66. In 2020, that went up to $76. Initiation fees also rose from a maximum of $132 to $147.

Meanwhile, Local 11’s membership suffered a catastrophic 37 percent drop in 2020 — a loss of about 10,000 members. As a result, the union’s overall dues collection also fell, with collections coming in over $7 million below the previous year’s amount.

Not only did this drop in membership have little impact on leadership salaries, it also didn’t stop Local 11 from spending thousands of dollars on political consulting and legal fees. That included almost $35,000 on a text message campaign and $16,000 to pay for an ad in the Los Angeles Times.

Local 11 advertised its commitment to in-person political canvassing during the pandemic — even as it called for more lockdowns in Los Angeles.

Co-president Briceño bragged about the union’s role in an opinion piece, highlighting how hundreds of “local UNITE HERE members traveled from Southern California to Arizona to knock doors in 100-degree heat.”

During the 2019-2020 election year, Unite Here Local 11 and its PAC sent over $400,000 to candidates, and political committees according to campaign finance reports filed with the state of California.

They say it’s only in times of crisis that people show their true colors, and Local 11’s couldn’t be clearer. But the union’s struggling rank-and-file may not appreciate their leadership’s commitment to maintaining six-figure salaries and political spending during one of the toughest years on record.

Charlyce Bozzello is the communications director at the Center for Union Facts

One comment

  1. Sergio E Gonzalez

    Sadly the unions general membership will never know any of this.

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